Sunday, September 18, 2011

of Creating a Shutter Mail Organizer

First, life has been pretty crazy this past month or so. Sorry for lack of updates but between my birthday and vacation and all the fun summer activities outdoors, it is hard to focus on blogging for any length of time. I know this is technically a food blog (or at least I hope it will be when I get crackin' on tacking more pictures when I am cooking), but I wanted to share with you a project I worked on one weekend.

Refinishing and re-purposing old furniture is like second nature to many people in my family. My grandfather finds awesome old pieces like battered navy trunks and tables and creates useable, workable, and beautiful additions to any room. My mother has similar talents, particularly in reupholstering and refinishing old chairs. My sister and brother in law somehow scrounge up old chests, see potential where most people would see a mess, and make them into awesome coffee tables. I could go on and on about ways in which my family takes creative reuse very seriously. Luckily, I got a pinch of the family talent thrown in because I love refinishing and refurbishing discarded architectural materials into functional and beautiful pieces. Don't get me wrong I also enjoy refinishing furniture but I love the creativity that comes when something catches your eye in a salvage yard and you know exactly what to do with it. With this project, I actually planned on going to the salvage yard to specifically get the shutter, but I couldn't have imagined what wonders awaited me when i got there. Another trip is a definite must!

This total and complete freedom to dabble in my creative side is nothing new. My job is generally creative but more on a theoretical and less on a tangible hands on kind of level. I genuinely enjoy getting down and dirty with some paints and lots of glue. And so I present, the old shutter that I converted into a Shutter Mail Organizer.

Today's Cast of Characters:

It's really simple today guys. All you need for this project is an old shutter,indoor or outdoor, it doesn't matter, in fact for mine I used an old western door; glue, I used gorilla glue but feel free to use any kind of industrial strength super glue; Three colors of paint, I used Behr Key Lime Pie, Behr Stealth Jet and some left over Parchment from Sherwin Williams; scrap particle board or plywood for the backing, you can sometimes get this for free at a place like 84 lumber, or you may score some free wood at Home Depot; sandpaper; and spray polyurethane, this can be tinted if you are going for the super distressed look. You will also need mounting hardware, tape, an exacto knife or razor, nails, and whatever embellishments you choose , I decided not to embellish my organizer but you could always get cool knobs or hangers for umbrellas or keys or something of that nature.

What to do:

If you are using an old dirty shutter, you may need to hose it off and scrub it to make sure it is clean. You may even need to sand away some chipped paint before washing. Luckily, this little baby was relatively cared for and so all I had to do was give it a quick wipe after banging it around with a hammer for a bit. You want to make sure it dries all the way before you start the rest of your work. 

Decide if you want two colors and part of the original shutter or just one color. With this particular project I chose to use only green since the under color was a pretty wood one. I could just have easily painted the whole shutter with the parchment color, let that dry and then started on with the next step. 

When the first coat of paint is dry (this can take 2+ hours, or quite quickly depending on the temperature and humidity level) decide if you need another coat. If you do, add another coat and allow it to dry completely. 

If you don't, its time to create the stencil for the word MAIL. You could even get fancy and use La POSTE, French for mail. I wanted my lettering to look a little old fashioned and weathered already so I bumped around online for a bit on free font websites. is a particularly good place to go. You can see the word mail or poste in all sorts of different fonts by typing it in to the custom preview section.

Once you find the font you like, choose the size that will be best represented on your shutter. I wanted a larger script so I chose 175pt. Feel free to play around with cutting out some examples and holding them up to the shutter to find your perfect fit. After you decide how big you want your text, it's up to you to choose if you want a drop shadow on your letters. I chose the stealth jet color because it complimented the creamy color of the writing.  If you like the look of mine you can try to replicate it by using the Pieces of Eight font and adding a drop shadow.

After you've chosen how you want your letters to look apply the painters, masking, or white tape over the lettering. I know this seems a bit strange but you will understand why this is being done when you begin to stencil. Use an exacto knife or razor to cut out the lettering. When you remove the interior portion of the text, the lettering should be fairly close to the font you originally chose. If it isn't make a few adjustments and get it looking crisp. 

If you have chosen to do a drop shadow, repeat the stencil making process but leave the lettering whole. Place the lettering so that it matches up exactly with the cream colored lettering you have already done and tape it securely. Apply the second color the same way you did the first. Allow the paint to dry completely and apply a second coat if necessary. 

Now its time to use the sand paper to apply wear to the shutter. You are making this look weathered so think about where weather would be most likely to affect the shutter. Obviously, the corners and sides of the shutter would be most prone to damage so make sure that you concentrate your efforts there. The individual slats would also be affected to a lesser extent. Be sure you don't take away more of the paint than you need to. You still want to be able to see the new color you have added. 

Be sure to concentrate some of your efforts on weathering the lettering on your shutter. I find that using broad sweeping motions over the letters has the desired effect and still looks natural. You do not want your shutter to look overly processed or weathered. Make sure it is still readable.

It's finally time to glue! I find that the easiest way to set this up is to make sure the shutter slats are all going in the same direction first and then flip it over so that the back is facing you. Squeeze the glue on the surfaces that will be touching the particle board. Make sure that the bottoms of the slats that will be touching the particle board have some glue. This will prevent your slats from moving around all willy nilly when they are loaded with mail. 

Place the particle board on top of the shutter making sure to line it up properly and apply gentle pressure. Make any necessary adjustments quickly and allow the glue to dry according to package directions. 

Once the shutter is weathered to your liking,  and the glue is dry and bonded to the backing, it is time to seal the weathered finish you have done. I used untinted spray polyurethane in satin finish. You can go glossy or matte but I love the way the satin looks when dry. Two coats should do it but be sure to wait two hours in between coats. This protects the finish you have just spent time creating and generally helps the shutter be happier in the long run.

You can install your mounting hardware and hang it now, or if you have anything to embellish the sorter, after installing the hardware, it is time to add them. You could use some of the glue and just stick the embellishments on or screw them on for added strength.

Once it is hung you have something functional, original, and just lovely for organizing your mail. For me, it solves the problem of how to sort mail with my roommates instead of just leaving it on the stairs. Since I live in a walk-up over a business, our entry stairwell is a bit intimidating even without all the mail piling up. This makes the house seem a little bit more like home the second we enter and I am sure it is something that I will use in any house where I live. I hope you will enjoy doing this project as much as I have. Creating something beautiful from something discarded is a joy that waits to be treasured!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

of My Favorite Turkey Meatballs (with Spaghetti and Tomato Sauce)

Spaghetti and Meatballs has always been a very comforting dinner for me. I blame it on my as yet undiscovered secret Italian heritage. Who would have guessed that these meatballs, invented during my whirlwind college years in between huge studio projects (shout out to LARCs), would one day become such a staple of my diet. Besides my mom who used to field my requests for meatballs and spaghetti at least two or three times a week that is...

I've had meatballs made with beef, veal, lamb, chicken, turkey or any possible combo of the 5 with any number of spice and seasoning combinations thrown in for good measure. I can honestly say that this recipe is my absolute favorite, and not just because it is one of mine. My favorite part of these are how versatile these little babies are. You can fry 'em up in a pan, sear 'em and finish up in the oven, or just go the lazy (my) way and bake these suckers. Each and every preparation lends a different quality to the recipe and all are enjoyable; however since I'm in charge here I'm showing my favorite way...feel free to experiment though I am not in your kitchen so I'll never know!

Another great thing about this recipe is that it is very easy to double, triple  or even quadruple the recipe. I made this at the beach last year for my family with no trouble at all and that is with  4 hungry men involved. As long as the proportions stay the same you will get the same result no matter how many pounds of ground turkey you put in. 

Today's Cast of Characters:

For the sauce I am using store bought tomato sauce but dialing the flavor up a bit with some baby heirloom tomatoes and white wine. I find that both lend a little bit of something undefinable to the sauce. When heirlooms are not in season I generally use little grape tomatoes, but since its the summer time I totally lucked out!

All sorts of goodies go into the meatballs, but don't be discouraged by the long list. These come together extremely quickly. For the meatballs you'll need ground turkey, good quality Parmesan cheese, an egg, olive oil, and milk (I used fat free half&half because it is the only thing I had). For the seasonings some garlic, some basil, a bit of Cajun seasoning, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes. You will also need bread crumbs. I am using whole wheat today but when I make them at the beach this year I will use Gluten-Free breadcrumbs so that my recently diagnosed with Celiac disease sister (told you the family allergy profile was bizarre) can enjoy them too!

What to do:

To get started, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. You want the oven to be nice and toasty by the time you are finished with the prep. Also get a pot of water going on the stove. Add in some salt, trust me on this one. 

While the water is coming to a boil crack the eggs into a medium size mixing bowl. Beat it a little bit with a fork until it is combined. 

Add in the milk and mix a little more. This will allow the two to get a little bit acquainted before the others arrive to the party. Apparently socializing eggs is super important. 

Now its time for the salt, pepper, garlic, and all the other seasonings to give yourself a workout. Stir this until the mixture is evenly spread through with deliciousness.

Drop in your ground turkey. Pour in the bread crumbs and the Parmesan cheese. Try not to think about how you wouldn't mind eating raw meat at this point and get yourself a cheese stick to calm the tides of hunger.

Now that you are feeling better, incorporate the ingredients into the egg mixture until it is just combined. Be careful not to over mix as this could lead to tougher less mushy meatballs. I'd rate this a 5 out of 10 on things to take your aggression out on. But don't worry there is plenty of chopping involved later.

I like to hand roll the balls into approximately two inch spheres. I think this gives it a more of a homey feel plus I have always enjoyed playing with food. If you are a germaphobe like my mom you can wear gloves or use a small cookie scoop. To each his own.

Plop the meatballs onto a greased cookie sheet. If you are touching the raw meat make sure you remember to give your hands a good wash before continuing with the rest of the recipe.

By now your oven should be furiously beeping at you to let you know its ready and raring to go. Put the meatballs in the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. You'll know they are ready when they are a delectable golden brown color and are slightly springy to the touch.

You can double check doneness by cutting one in half and seeing if it is all cooked through. As a bonus, you can sneak these halves into your stomach (Get in my belly!) or just add them to the sauce when its ready.

The water should also be boiling so add in your desired noodles. My choice is almost always thin spaghetti but very occasionally I like to mix it up with some angel hair or even fettuccine.

While all of this other stuff is cooking, pour the jar of your favorite store bought or homemade tomato sauce into a pot. Today I went with Francesco Rinaldi Tomato and Basil because as I said earlier I am in charge here so I am showing you my favorite way.

I always put in a little bit of white wine (to the bottom of the label) in the can and shake it up. This serves the dual purpose of adding a little bit of Italy and thinning the thick sauce.

Next sprinkle in some fresh or dry basil (enough so that you can tell it is in there). With fresh I use 3 or 4 leaves. With dry 1/4 to 1/2 a teaspoon should be plenty. Also add in your halved grape or cherry tomatoes. Today I am using baby heirloom tomatoes. It is just not summer without them. 10 or so of them should be just plenty too. 

Allow sauce to come to a simmer. Then add in the Meatballs and simmer for the duration of the time it takes to cook the pasta or if you were an overachiever and already had the pasta cooked 3 or 4 minutes should work out just fine. 

Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain the pasta, and return to the pot. Finally, add a little bit of margarine, butter, or olive oil to the spaghetti noodles and mix it up real good. 

Serve up some spaghetti onto a plate, pour some of the sauce and a few meatballs on top of the spaghetti. Garnish with a little bit of Parmesan cheese and try not to die whilst you inhale this dish.

Serves 4 hungry people(more with a salad)


1/2 Package of Thin Spaghetti, cooked
1 Jar of Tomato Sauce, Heated
10 Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
White Wine

The Meatballs:

1 lb Ground Turkey
1/4 Cup Breadcrumbs
1/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese
1 large Egg
3 cloves Garlic
2 tbsp Milk
1 tsp Olive Oil
1 tsp Basil
1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp Pepper
1 dash Cajun Seasoning
1/8 tsp Italian Seasoning
1 dash Paprika


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, start a pot of salted water.
2. Crack an egg into a medium mixing bowl. Whisk with a fork until all yellow. Add milk, garlic, salt, pepper, and other seasonings. Mix well.
3. Add the ground turkey, bread crumbs, and Parmesan cheese. Mix until just incorporated. Do NOT overmix. 
4. Form the mixture into balls approximately 2 inches round. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes. Until golden brown, springy, and cooked through.
5. While the meatballs are baking, pour the sauce into a medium sauce pan. Rinse jars with White wine and pour into pot. Add Basil and tomatoes. Add in meatballs when sauce comes to a boil. Simmer until pasta is finished.
6. Add the pasta to the water and cook according to package directions. Drain and return to pan. Add in butter, margarine, or olive oil and stir.
7. Serve, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

of Tie Dye Pie

It's been seriously hot and disgustingly humid in DC recently (probably a side effect of building the nation's capitol in a swamp...nice one L’Enfant). Luckily this weekend we've had unseasonably awesome weather and so in order to celebrate the sunshine and great temperatures I whipped up a Tie Dye Pie. It's an invention of mine that is as easy as it is delicious. The prep time is virtually nonexistent but the rewards speak for themselves. Who doesn't need a bit of ice creamy nostalgia every now and again? And so without further adieu I'll let you in on the deliciousness.

Today's Cast of Characters:

Yes...those extra M&M's were eaten.
I'm keeping it simple today with only three ingredients. Some vanilla ice cream from whichever brand you prefer, M&M's and of course the Oreo Crust. If you like chocolate this is the pie for you! My mom and one of my sisters are allergic to chocolate, yet another one of the bizarro allergy profiles floating around my family, so if I were making this for them I would use a graham cracker crust and Reese's Pieces. It would be a slightly different color spectrum but the effect would still work. 

What to do:

Please refrain from licking the screen.
First, allow the ice cream to soften until it becomes extra mushy. I like to think of the consistency as somewhere between a McFlurry and a soft double scoop at your favorite ice cream spot. This is important because if the ice cream is too hard you wont get the cool tie dye effect but if it is too soft you'll just have a yicky mess on your hands. Dump it into a large bowl. Try not sample too much of the stuff stuck inside the container while you are getting it out...a little bit is just fine though!

Chocolately Goodness? Check.
Now pour in the M&M's; as with everything in life, balance here is important. I don't like too many pieces of M&M's because sometimes they hurt my teeth. I'm sensitive, okay? But if you like to eat tons of them by all means go ahead and add more, just remember that it will take longer to stir in which will result in longer refreezing. Allow them to sit for just a second until you see they are starting to leach their color.

Starting to get a little trippy...
Stir the the M&M's until you get a pattern of colors in the ice cream that you feel comfortable with. This is your chance to unleash your inner child, or real child if you happen to have one handy. Remember it doesn't have to be perfect, half the fun is in the screw ups!

Flat? No. Pretty? Yes.
Once you've gone to town and unleashed your underused artistic side, spoon the mixture carefully into the pie crust. Even it out as well as you can without making the patterns in your pie merge into something resembling a melted push pop. The mix will be a bit mushier than before but that is totally fine because it's going back into the freezer.

At this point you have two options: you could either put CoolWhip on the top before putting into the freezer and create a nice even top; or you could be like me and rebel against frozen dessert topping. Either one is fine and either will taste delicious. Cover the pie with aluminum foil and place it back in the freezer.

Pretend I have a picture here with CoolWhip...sorry but it's just not how I roll!

After I dug in.
Allow the pie to freeze up for a few hours. The minimum would be 2 but I like my ice cream pie to be relatively hard when I cut it (makes for a prettier presentation) so I leave it in for 3+ hours. Finally bring it out of the freezer, cut it with a sharp knife and try to make it to the table before devouring the whole piece in a few seconds...don't judge I was hungry! I sometimes serve this up with a homemade fudge sauce, sometimes I even get a little crazy and put the fudge on an hour or so into the freezing process. The point is there are a million little tweaks that you can make to your tie dye pie, but the original is A-ok is my book.


1 Carton of Vanilla Ice Cream
1 Cup of M&M's
1 Oreo Pie Crust
1 Container of defrosted CoolWhip (optional)


1. Allow ice cream to soften. Dump into mixing bowl for better access to mix.
2. Pour in the M&M's and let it sit until color leaching becomes visible.
3. Stir in the M&M's until you reach the desired tie dye pattern.
4. Carefully spoon mixture into pie crust and even it out as best you can.
5. Freeze the pie up for a few hours until mixture is hardened usually takes 3+ hours.
6. Cut, Serve, and Enjoy your creation!